Over three Saturdays this spring in an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library – our local library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the building they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their evening. To add excitement to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after the books and all the guests have been matched.
How does this relate to books for you to read? Well, the event offers a diverse group of hosts, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books to read. There is great fiction, some nonfiction sports books, a memoir or two, even Plato. We realized that the books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences. So, we asked the hosts to give us their selections, with a brief review of why they picked the book that they did. And now, we share their selections and rationals with you. Happy reading!
Themes for Saturday April 5
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2004) – Nothing piques an appetite like “an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.” From the opening scene in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” to the dungeons of Montjuic, The Shadow of the Wind twists and turns through post civil war Barcelona. Join us in a dimly lit cafe off Las Ramblas where the Catalans hold court and partake of the delicacies and intoxicants of a dangerous and mysterious world.
“Beans Green and Yellow” a Poem by Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver (2011) – Reading Mary Oliver’s “Beans Green and Yellow” suggested a dinner menu for the “Tables of Content” event at our house. Beyond that, though, we envision that an evening with people who enjoy Oliver’s poetry will be fun, relaxed, and inspirational. We encourage dinner guests to bring along a personal favorite if they’d like.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009) – In rural Mississippi 1962, three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step. This book was loved by all members of our family. A great summer read or beach book. We will toast the coming of summer and indulge in southern style cuisine, but there will NOT be chocolate pie for dessert!
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (1990) – A Year In Provence is the true story of how a London advertising executive and his wife moved to a remote village in south-eastern France. The book documents their attempts to renovate an old farmhouse, but the heart of the story – and the inspiration for our dinner – is all the long lazy meals under the Provençal sun. Think romantic hill villages, cobbled market squares, fields of purple lavender, a canvas full of irises, scents of wild thyme and orange blossom, fat black olives, red tomatoes, and starry, starry nights.
My Life in France by Julia Child & Alex Prud’Homme (2006) – My Life in France is a delightful and delicious account of Julia Child’s love affair with French cuisine and culture. Julia broke away from her narrow conservative upbringing when she moved to Paris with her new urbane husband. There, she fell in love with all things French. With grit, determination and an indomitable spirit, she recounts her tale of learning to speak the language and cook the food. You can almost taste each dish as she lovingly describes it. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, originally rejected for publication, took her eight years to complete. But, American cooks lovingly embraced and emulated her.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012) – This story begins in the early 1960’s in a small, isolated town along the Italian coast near Genoa, where a young innkeeper looks up from his work to see a beautiful American actress approaching his dock by boat. Direct from the scandal-laden set of “Cleopatra”, she was sent by the film’s heartless producer for reasons that slowly become apparent. Spanning 50 years with stops in Edinburgh, Hollywood and the Pacific Northwest, the author spins a tale of love and following one’s dreams. The book describes coastal Italian comfort food — simple, fresh and slow — this will be the inspiration for our meal.
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger (2003) – This non-fiction book is so fascinating it’s been made into a movie, a television series, almost another movie and inspired legions of cult-like followers. In it, a Texas high school football team is challenged as their season careens toward “state.” We find that nothing in Texas is as important as high school football, where the players are gods, the schools are “football factories”, and the coaches are above reproach – until they lose. At our dinner, you get all that, a Texas-sized helping of barbecue brisket, and other “only in Texas” foods! (This BBQ will have vegetarian options.)
Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1880) – Do you remember falling into the pages of Heidi, dreaming of the golden cheese grandfather would melt over toast in the fireplace of his mountain hut? If so, this literary evening is for you. Please join us for traditional Swiss raclette, freshly baked Fladen (Swiss apple tart) and Sven’s Schoggikuchen (Wet Chocolate Cake). A real, live yodeler has promised to make an appearance to send out his call over the Vermont hills and valleys. Please feel free to wear your lederhosen or just come as you are.
Books for Saturday April 26
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2009) – This is a “Song of New York City” — the high, low, rich and poor, black, white and Hispanic. The author wanted to transport even those who have never been to NYC to that fabulous city. The dinner? A NYC style one, perhaps with an Irish influence.
Life Is Meals: A Food Lovers Book of Days by James & Kay Salter (2006) – We chose Life Is Meals : A Food Lover’s Book Of Days because it is a wonderful book about eating and celebrating food and friends. Whether or not we serve something directly from the book remains to be seen, but we promise a delicious time.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010) – “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.” – Jonathan Franzen, Freedom. There’s so much to discuss in this book…from the complicated and often unlikable characters to the detailed examination of life in America in 2010. While reading Freedom, I had to retreat to my bedroom to read, ignoring my children, my spouse and even the poor dog so I could tear through all 608 pages. If you loved Freedom, or better yet, if you hated it join us for a lively discussion of this ambitious novel.
Symposium by Plato (c. 385-380 BCE) – Come eat food appropriate for love, and discuss this ancient version of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking”.
Books for Saturday May 10
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon. We chose Death at La Fenice because Donna Leon portrays Venice in such wonderful detail in each of her books, always providing readers with a map so that we can follow Inspector Brunetti as he solves the crime. Also, his wife Paola is a splendid cook and we will try to recreate one of her mouth-watering Venetian meals for our dinner.
One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, An Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard (2012) – I chose this book because I always read a baseball book in the spring. For me, the last days of winter are agonizing, but reading about baseball always makes me think of summer, childhood, innocence…… and the heroes of my youth. So much of sports conversation now is about cultural issues and how they fit into sports, and vice versa — will a gay player be welcome in the NFL? Sports, especially baseball with its special place in our nation’s history, help us relate to one another in a different way, and perhaps can bridge gaps that otherwise wouldn’t be bridged. If there is a theme to this dinner, it’s not just this specific book, but the effect that baseball and other sports can have upon us as we enter the second half of our lives.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2010) – Hunger Games is a fun, fast-paced read that leaves some thought-provoking questions about the future of our society. Most importantly, this book features fabulously extravagant food, drinks and table settings.
For those of you near Norwich in April and May, please join us for these fun and book-infused evenings. For more details and to purchase your tickets, visit the Norwich Public Library or call them at 802-649-1184.
If you can’t join these dinners, we hope you can enjoy this extensive and eclectic list of fifteen books to read.
BONUS: For people attending the dinners, if you wish to read the book before the dinner and you purchase the books from the Norwich Bookstore, the store will generously donate a portion of those sales (both online and in person) to the library as part of this event. To activate this donation, you only need to indicate when you make your purchase that you are attending one of the dinners.